Reclaiming the "Ghetto"
Thank you for posting this provocative description of the work you are doing with your class around the many 'Romeo and Juliets' that exist in the world. I find the work that you describe rich, powerful, exciting and important. I imagine your students do, too.
In discussing a set of 'ghetto Romeo and Juliet" student productions made mostly by white youth from the suburbs, you generously state, "I want to underscore that I am not using these examples to criticize the students that have made them." I appreciate that stance. Students only know what they know; hopefully, going to school helps them to expand their horizons, not only by reading classic literature, but by understanding the world we live it today, and the way that larger sociatal forces, gender, race, economy, geography, to name a few, shape what they know -- and what they don't. I respect your decision to be careful about not criticizing the students who made these videos, but what about the teachers or other adults who assigned them or supported students in making them?
You ask an essential question of us all when you say "As educators, our role is changing; the power of student production is a necessary tool for critical analysis. How can these tools break down existing assumptions?" I think we have to ask another, harder question as well. While these tools do potentially provide power for doing such good in the world, they also have the power to do harm, as we can see in the 'ghetto videos' shared in your post. We must also ask ourselves "Are the tools I share with students being used to reinforce existing assumptions?" if they are, what is my role in reversing that?
Kudos to you, Antero, for moving students from the close reading of a single text, to the examination of themes across multiple texts, to the critique of texts and production of counter-narratives.